Studying Abroad in Germany: No German Skills Required

by Jake Hanrahan
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin - Photo by Ashley Houston

At first glance, Germany may seem like the kind of place that would be off limits to study abroad students that don’t have a great handle on the German language. However, contrary to popular belief, you absolutely don’t have to sprechen sie Deutsch in order to study abroad in Germany.

With its central European location and openness to outside cultures, language barriers within Germany are far less of an issue than many believe. In fact, many of the largest universities in the country are shifting their instruction language to a combination of English and German, meaning that it is now entirely possible to complete a full degree in Germany without having to take a single course taught in German. This fact has made Germany one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world in recent years, for both German and English speakers alike. A range of German cities are now home to study abroad programs specifically geared toward international English-speaking students, featuring plenty of courses taught in English.

What Language Barrier?

With comically long words like kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung, the German language as a whole can seem quite intimidating (that mess translates as “auto liability insurance”, for the curious readers). However, there is no need for potential study abroad students to be fluent in German in order to study abroad in Germany. Almost all of the major universities in Germany offer courses taught in English, such as Freie Universitat Berlin, allowing students to approach German language studies as more of an aspect of cultural immersion rather than a necessity for studying abroad in Germany.

Germany is a very connected country, globally speaking, and this means that they are more than aware of the importance of an understanding of English, especially in the business world. Add to that the fact that Germany is home to some of the finest academic programs in the world for studying the humanities (especially ancient cultures), as well as more modern pursuits in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, and you’ve got a premier study abroad destination, regardless of what you capabilities in the German language are.

A Range of Programs

The first step to studying abroad in Germany is finding the program that is right for you. Luckily, there is no shortage of study abroad programs with English taught courses to choose from. Be sure to visit your school’s study abroad center to see what kind of programs they offer. Oftentimes, larger universities will have partner institutions in Germany and around the world, which cater to students with just about any foreign language skill level.

If your university doesn’t happen to have any available study abroad programs in Germany or partnerships in place, then don’t worry! Students can always choose to enroll in a program through another university that has an available option in Germany. For example, both New York University and Duke University offer study abroad programs at partner institutions in Berlin that are open to American students attending other schools in the U.S.

Some partner institutions will provide tiered programs for international students, based on German language skills of each incoming student. However, full English language instruction study abroad programs are still available for beginners in Germany too.

Hamburg port, Germany

Hamburg port

English-Friendly Housing Options

For international students who don’t want to focus heavily on studying German in Germany, some housing options will be better than others. If language skills aren’t high on your list of goals for your study abroad experience in Germany, then finding accommodations with other English speaking students will be the way to go. The alternative, renting a place on your own in a city, can be a daunting task and frankly an entirely unnecessary challenge.

Most universities in Germany will provide international students with pre-arranged housing options, such as dormitories or apartment/flat complexes exclusively for English speaking students. Due to the popularity of study abroad in Germany among American students, these English-friendly housing options often even have the option of being American only too. In most study abroad programs in Germany, students will be able to choose which living arrangement they prefer based on the type of experience they want to have.

As a final note in the housing department, some German universities will offer a select number of homestay opportunities for international students.These experiences, while certainly rewarding in the “cultural immersion” aspect, are more appropriate for those looking to develop or even master German as a second language. If learning the local language is not something you are interested in, homestays may not be the best option for you. But if you have any desire to learn a little bit of German in an informal setting, or even share your knowledge of the English language with locals, you may still want to consider living with a homestay family.

Multiple Cities to Choose From

For international students with little to no understanding of the German language, the bigger cities will likely be the easiest to assimilate to. Study abroad programs in any large city in Germany will typically provide a variety of options when it comes to courses, housing, and immersion opportunities.

Berlin may be the best choice in the “big city” department, as it is by far the largest city in the country as well as the home of some of the finest universities in all of Europe. Relatively affordable, Berlin has a fantastic and easy to use public transportation system, which will come in handy when visiting the seemingly endless number of museums, art galleries, restaurants, and shopping centers. Berlin may be hard to top on the list of potential destinations for study abroad in Germany, especially for students studying political science, business, or the arts.

Hamburg is another city that should make it to the top of student’s list of cities for study abroad in Germany, an especially great choice for both history buffs and techies alike. Once a part of the Holy Roman Empire, Hamburg has since blossomed as a hub of technology and industry, meaning that English will be at least a bit more commonly spoken here than in other regions of Germany. International students interested in manufacturing, technology, or medicine should definitely consider studying abroad in Hamburg, which is home to one of the best medical universities in Europe as well as an Airbus assembly plant. Those who choose to study in Hamburg will be hard pressed for boredom, as the city has some of the best choices in nightlife in all of Europe.

Munich is yet another intriguing possibility for English-Friendly study abroad in Germany. With the gorgeous Bavarian Alps serving as a backdrop to the city, Munich is full of authentic German culture. Perhaps the most well-known tourist attraction in Germany can be found in Munich, the annual Oktoberfest, which takes place from late September through early October each year. Munich is also a great study abroad destination for sports fans, with Bayern Munich, the most successful German soccer club, calling the city home (as do multiple other soccer, basketball, and hockey teams). On the academic side of things, the city houses some of the oldest universities in Germany. The majority of study abroad programs in Munich focused on the humanities, arts, accounting and finance, or engineering.

Oktoberfest, Munich

Oktoberfest, Munich

Making a Final Decision

Germany is a fantastic choice for study abroad, even if you have no ability or desire to learn how to speak German. The opportunities available to English-speaking international students are almost endless, with most universities offering full semesters’ of courses taught entirely in English, as well as all English-speaking student housing to boot. Germans as a whole sincerely want people from all over the world to visit their beautiful country and study at their universities, and consequently, they have made the whole process extremely simple and easy for non-German speakers.

However, keep in mind that one of the ultimate goals of studying abroad is to meet and interact with a new culture very different from your own. If you plan to simply attend classes taught in English and interact only with fellow English speakers, then perhaps you would be better off staying at home and saving the effort needed to study abroad in Germany. If you are going to travel all the way across the world to pursue academic coursework in English, be sure to put yourself out there or attempt to be a part of the local culture in some way, however minimal it may be.

Experiences that take place well outside the confines of a classroom, and outside your comfort zone, will teach you truly valuable lessons, and the welcoming, fascinating atmosphere of Germany is a great place to begin expanding your learning opportunities!